This summary only covers the bare bones of the book, so if you have a chance, get out there and read the book for yourself! It’s only 200 pages and a fantastic read. Don’t forget to buy your tickets for Stretch Dance’s special preview performances.
On the cart ride to their undisclosed location, Elli talks to a young Hungarian soldier. The friendly young man doesn’t know where they’re taking Elli and her fellow Jews from the ghetto, but promises to safeguard her book of poems.
Elli and her family are transferred to the hands of the SS and herded into cattle cars. There is not enough room for everyone to sit, so those who aren’t lucky enough to get a spot near the walls are forced to stand and crouch for four days.
It is night when the cattle car finally comes to a stop. There is confusion everywhere but it is impossible to miss the huge sign: AUSCHWITZ. Elli follows her mother and Aunt Serena as they drift towards the group women walking to the left, but an SS officer grabs hold of Elli’s braid. He stops Elli and her mother from following the other women, pointing them towards the other gate. “You are sixteen now,” he tells the fourteen-year-old Elli.
The man was Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, and the line of unsuspecting Jews had been heading directly to the gas chambers.
Aunt Serena is not allowed to join Elli and her mother and is shoved back into the line to the left. Though she does not yet know that the line leads to the gas chambers, Elli calls out to her: “Aunt Serena! Aunt Serena! I’ll never see you again!”
Once in the camp, the Jews are stripped of their clothing, their hair, and their dignity. In their place, they are given a sack dress with no other clothing to protect from the elements. However, things lighten when Elli and her mother find other members of their family; Aunt Celia and her cousins.
Life in the camps is brutal. They labor for twelve hours and more in the hot sun without protection and with little water. What little water they do manage to find is filled with gravel and putrefied water, and their only dinner is a thin soup seasoned with sawdust and worms.
At first, Elli cannot drink the fetid water, but circumstances numb her more and more to the inhumane conditions. Rumors of gas chambers circulate the camps, but no one dares to speak out of it. The threat of death and punishment loom over their heads.
Working conditions worsen at the labor camp, and an ill-timed downpour brings down the wrath of the SS soldiers on Elli’s group of workers. The chilling rain had slowed the work of the prisoners, and Commandant Goetz orders that one out of every ten prisoners must be shot at dawn.
But when the dawn breaks, no SS officers come for them. They are lucky. A factory in the north has risen up in revolt and has focused the SS’s attention. Elli and her commando are safe for one more day, at the expense of the lives lost in the uprising.